Social Media vs. Self-censorship: Where Should We Draw the Line?

Somehow we got here—that point where the comedy bit in numerous 90’s sitcoms occurs where the main character is thinking and then they realize “wait, can everyone hear my thoughts? Oh no!” (insert live audience laugh).

No, we have not all evolved and gained twin-like mind reading capabilities. But our obsession with social media has become our thought portal. The coveted golden rule of “if you do not have anything nice to say do not say anything at all” appears to officially be an expired thought process as our fingers speak louder then our tongues could have ever done. The integration of social media platforms such as twitter and facebook into our daily lives over the past decade has brought about enormous change to the social landscape of the world with many positive improvements.

The Arab Spring, Jimmy Fallon’s hashtag compilation, and being reminded of your co-worker’s birthday are all events that could not have occurred in the early 2000’s, and for that we are thankful for all those who have played a role in this social change, from founders to investors and even the users who assisted in product adoption and improvement. At no fault of the companies themselves, some how the users have turned social platforms into our thoughts with wifi connectivity.

Is sharing your thoughts for your friends to see or posting something seemingly hilarious a problem? The limitations of your conversation is no longer a hindrance to spreading an idea or content as you do not have to tell everyone individually but you can allow your ideas to be as free as you want, and depending on the mass acceptance, or in Justine Sacco’s case, the mass rejection, of your content you could be creator of the next viral content.

No one is trying to propitiate Orwellian theories by banning people from speaking their mind. The market valuations of Facebook and Twitter at $141 billion and $33 billion respectively asserts that the business of sharing thoughts, memories and pictures is extremely profitable. Social media platforms will not stop your posts or provide individual damage control for you after potentially ruining your day and possibly your career in 140 characters or less.

There are many individuals who wished for the sweet anonymity of the pre-social world where individuals could hide behind fake names as they lambast other users on forums for hours. Unfortunately for all those who asked for illegal narcotics to be deliver to their work while on lunch or posted an offensive picture while using the company account have learned that words may not hurt as the nursery rhyme exclaims, but they could put you in unemployment or in more serious instances prison.

In a society where speaking out is validated in regards to injustice or oppression, deciphering the differentiation between positive speech and ignorant ramblings would seem far apart in theory but the online reality begs to differ. Self-censorship is a hard task, especially when we are uncertain of at what point self-censorship should come into play.

The fact that people record deviant behaviour and publicize it reveals that this lapse in judgement is not a generational phenomenon as teenagers to former members of the United States House Representatives have exposed some unsavoury acts, but a lack of understanding in regards to the wide spread impact and influence of social tools. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 1921 the fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was a record-high 24 while in the 2013 it was one. Of course there are more people on the road now and more miles travelled but that is a substantial decrease. Maybe social media missteps will resemble NHTSA records and decrease as the users gain more experience over time.

It is quite evident that we cannot go back to a world without heavily immersive social tools, and even if Facebook, Twitter et al fade away new social utilities will replace them and continue the trend. Ridding the world of social media is not effective or even optional, but understanding the true potential of these platforms reach and how to regulate our activities is the only way to effectively experience this new age of connectivity.

In 2013, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt warned teenagers by stating that their online mistakes will stay with them, basically he was saying think before you act and tread lightly online. Coming from the man who played a major role in making one of the largest collections of information on the internet, we all should adhere to this advice.